Making better beer

This is an email I’ve sent to a couple of mates that have wanted to do home brew and not have beer that tastes like arse, its also on my Facebook page. Its the basics on making your homebrew a little bit better.

I won’t take you through my process as I do all grain and that’s not where I recommend starting. I did however skip the middle ground, going straight from kits to all grain (and mads a lot of fuckups on the way). All grain is making beer totally from scratch, malted barley, hops, yeast, and whatever else I feel like throwing in. If you don’t want to go from kits (i.e. the supermarket kits like coopers) then go to extract with steeping grains. Basically this has you using some specialty grains and malt extract to make your fermentables and adding hops. Most of this can be done in a big pot on the stove. A good home brew shop should be able to get you going on this.

I’d recommend listening to some pod casts from the brewing network (probably the Jamil Show, heaps of free recipes) and getting yourself a book by John Palmer called “How to Brew” it’ll point you in the right direction. As for homebrew shops in Melbourne I recommend Grain and Grape in Yarraville, the blokes there are awesome.

For starting off get a kit, something like the coopers one that comes with a fermenter and bottles all ready to go (plastic ones are good to use and you can reuse them if you wash them properly). All of the kits you get from the supermarkets or homebrew shops are ok. My recommendations on these would be use the kit but get a better yeast (for dry yeast get the safbrew 04 (UK) or 05 (US) will cost about $5) and ferment them at about 18-20 deg C rather than the 28 deg C the kits tell you.

Stick with ales rather than larger. Standard ales ferment at 18-22deg C. Larger needs to be fermented at 12-16 deg C to get the right flavours (they ferment like champions at higher temps but the flavours go all over the shop). Stick with a standard ale (pale or amber) or most of the dark beers are easy (stout or a porter, there pretty easy to get drinkable) the wheat beers are ok but can be a little more fickle in getting the flavours right.

When your bottling if you want to use glass bottles get a bench capper, the hammer things dont work that well.

If you want to spend a bit more cash try a fresh wort kit (grain and grape has them). The next two areas you can spend cash on are;

  1. getting setup so that you can boil 30l – going to a full boil setup will let you make your own extract and hop selections, essentially create your own beer. If you go all grain (as I do) you will be able to use this. I have a an old keg with the top cut out fired by a gas burner. You can use an electric urn also (I’ve done this but don’t like it)
  2.  or some kind of temperature control for your fermentation – temp control on the ferment = better beer

General tips to make your beer not shitty;

  1. Keep everything clean get some no rinse sanitiser and use it all the time (mix some up in a spray bottle). Its heaps cheaper than throwing out a batch of beer. Don’t forget to clean you bottles properly (I rinse with boiling water then rinse in sanitiser). Also don’t use the kitchen sponge for cleaning brewing stuff, those things are full of nasty bugs.
  2. Use your hydrometer, write everything down, measure everything properly. This helps with repeatability and lets you figure out where you stuffed up. Nothing worse than making an awesome beer and not being able to do it again.
  3. Give the fermentation time to work. At about 3- 5 days it’ll probably be done on most beers but give it 7-10 in the fermenter to let the yeast finish the job off.
  4. Keep the fermenter out of the light, hops go funky in the light and make the beer taste skunky (thats why beer in green bottles can taste shitty). This is done by putting the fermentor somewhere dark or throwing a towel over it. Again don’t use green bottles.
  5. If you are using a dried yeast hydrate it before you put it in the unfermented beer (the wort). Put about one inch of water in a coffee cup, cover with cling film and put it on high in the microwave for 2 minutes. Put this aside to cool to room temp (do this hours before you brew). 15 minutes before you want to put it in the wort gently pour the yeast into the water in the coffee cup. Do not stir it. it will hydrate and look kind of gooey. You then add the whole thing to the wort. I often do 2 cups of water at the same time then use the second one to rinse the remaining yeast out into the wort.
  6. Fermentation is the most important bit after the sanitisation.
  7. To keep the beer a bit cooler wrap a towel around it and keep it wet.
  8. Read John Palmers book and do what he says!

That should get you started and remember there is no excuse for bad beer. Also go wander around in your local homebrew shop, sus out if its any good. I learned the basics from the guys in my local home brew shop, then figured the rest out myself (with a fair bit of help from doing a brewing course at Ballarat Uni).

Otherwise if in doubt ask me.

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